The most glaring difference between the theological quest of white women and black women is the fact that black women are dealing with three levels of oppression (racism, sexism, and classism) while the white women’s struggle with oppression can be one dimensional: fighting the Victorian model of the weak (even pampered) woman who can’t do anything for herself.
Part 1 of a 3-part series, presented here, focuses on the radical redefinition of authority Jesus taught and set in motion for his church; it considers the complementarians’ circuitous idea of gender authority.
In recent decades, traditionalists have dug for deeper roots in search of a viable biblical theology on which to support their superstructure of hierarchy. What has emerged instead in contemporary complementarianism is a sociocultural and extrabiblical “theology of roles.” It is this to which we will direct our critique.
There are six evident restrictions on authority that Christ the Head authorized and that apostolic missionaries set in motion in the New Testament house churches. These biblical boundaries of authority (exousia) unveil the extent to which complementarians practice masculine domination among God’s people.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
Etienne Gilson spoke of medieval theology as an attempt to build great “cathedrals of the mind,” mental constructions meant to bring glory to God and to inspire worship as soaring stone cathedrals across Europe have since the same time period. Like any architectural achievement, these mental cathedrals brought together the many pieces of Christian doctrine into coherent and often beautiful structures of thought, building idea upon idea until great theological and philosophical systems emerged from scriptural foundations. This architectural analogy implies something important—it is rarely possible to shift the ground floor of a building without the entirety of the construct tumbling down. Only with great caution and preparation, whereby new supports are carefully constructed before the old are removed, can such a change go smoothly. Unfortunately, evangelical theology finds itself today in a situation where a great shift in a foundational doctrine of Christian theology has occurred—in the doctrine of the Trinity. This shift threatens several important Christian teachings and compromises the basic orientation of Christian ethics. As complementarian theologians increasingly speak of the eternal functional subordination of the Son (hereafter EFS), they move a central pillar of the cathedral of Christian doctrine, unaware that such a change could bring down the entire edifice of Christian theology.
"In many modern churches, only masculine language for God is deemed acceptable. This restriction is historically and, more importantly, biblically unfounded ... By having an essentially masculine view of God, we blind ourselves to other ways we may connect to God and understand God. This not only distorts our image of God, but a purely masculine view also negatively affects the way we interact with one another—most prominently, how the church interacts with women."
I have long deliberated the possible efficacy of another Wild at Heart critique.1 Although many excellent critiques arose in the years after the book’s initial release in 2001, it still sells unusually well, progressively working its way into churches, homes, and minds. The English language version has sold over 4.5 million copies, annual sales exceed 100,000, and it currently holds the #1 Best Seller spot in Christian Men’s Issues on Amazon. To date, the book has been translated into thirty languages. Beyond this, the ideologies of Wild at Heart find expression in subsequent books written by John and Stasi Eldredge, most notably Captivating, as well as numerous contemporary Christian works on sex and gender that display direct influence from the Eldredges’ teachings or promote similar ideas. Hardly a year passes without some popular Christian book on gender or parenting acknowledging the Eldredges and their teachings or listing Wild at Heart as recommended reading. Stephen Mansfield, for example, calls the book “masterful,” listing it first in “The Ten Essential Books for Manly Men,” because it provides men with “the tools for understanding and living out the essential passions of manhood.” For Eldredge himself, such steady reception confirms its timeless truth. It is somehow paradoxically “truer” than before, because “it rings eternal, and universal. God was in it then; he is in it still.”